US urges Ankara to ‘refrain’ from military escalation in Syria
A top US official on Monday called on Ankara to refrain from military escalation in northern Syria, hours after the Turkish president said creating a “safe zone” in the area was essential.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said last week that Ankara would soon launch a new military operation into northern Syria to create a 30 kilometer “security zone” along its southern border. The offense is likely aimed at pushing back Kurdish fighters from the area.
Speaking to editors from Turkish state media on Tuesday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu vowed to “eliminate terrorist threat at home and abroad, in Syria and wherever it is.”
The US voiced its rejection of the operation.
In a phone call with the Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin, the US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan “reiterated the importance of refraining from an escalation in Syria to preserve existing ceasefire lines and avoid any further destabilization,” read a White House statement.
The US State Department on Wednesday said it is “deeply concerned” by Erdogan’s hint at a fresh operation in Syria, which would put American troops at risk. There are some 900 US soldiers still in Syria, according to AFP.
“We have engaged with our Turkish allies on this question in the first instance to learn more about the proposal that President Erdogan first voiced within recent days,” department spokesperson Ned Price said.
Erdogan on Sunday said Ankara will not wait for US “permission” to launch a new offensive in Syria, reported Anadolu Agency.
“What will we do if the United States does not do its part in the fight against terrorism? We will get by on our own,” he said.
Turkey has launched two offensives against Kurdish fighters in Syria since 2018. It alleges that the fighters are allied with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group fighting for the increased rights of Kurds in Turkey and is viewed as a terrorist organization by Ankara.
Following its order of the last incursion against them in 2019, Ankara and Moscow agreed that Russian military police and Syrian border guards would drive the fighters 30 kilometers away from the Turkish border.
Erdogan on Monday told his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call that “a terror-free zone with a depth of 30 kilometers from the Turkish border… was not established, and that it’s imperative to make these areas secure,” according to a statement from the Turkish presidency.
The recent talks of launching a new offensive in Syria come as Erdogan threatens to block the NATO membership of Finland and Sweden, alleging their support for the PKK.
Consensus by all NATO members is required for a new country to join and Erdogan is expected to use his approval as leverage to gain concessions from the West, including guarantees that they will not oppose a fresh offensive.